18th century Austrian politician Klemens von Metternich famously said “When Paris sneezes, Europe catches a cold”. For the past 60 years, that phrase has evolved to “When America sneezes, the world catches a cold”. This is no truer than in Canada where the US remains our largest trading partner and neighbour.
So, like many Canadians, I stayed up on November 5th to watch the election results come in. Thankfully the result meant I wasn’t obligated to start digging a moat. But as the dust and blue confetti settled, I started thinking about the 18 month campaign, the reported $2+ billion spent, the battle between Brand Blue and Brand Red and all it taught me.
So as a lowly marketing dude not a political pundit, like Wolf Blitzer or Karl Rowe, my comments are related to lessons I believe brands worldwide can take away.
To paraphrase Metternich, consider this a marketing gesundheit…
Everything is Immediate, Everything is Social: Well duh Hilton. Of course it is. Consider though that by 10pm Eastern on Election Night 20 million Election tweets had been sent – the result wasn’t even in!! Obama’s “victory tweet” has subsequently become the most retweeted tweet (say that 3x quickly) in history. Granted 310 million Americans had a tremendous amount riding on this “event” but, if your social feed was anything like mine, you were getting a second-by-second update. Who had voted, where they’d voted, what voter line-ups were like and so on. Worringly though, more people seemed concerned by the urge to be “immediate” than by the responsibility to check the accuracy of the content they were sharing.
Lesson: Know that your reaction time in social is inversely proportionate to the size – and passion – of your audience. The more passionate the group, the shorter your reaction time. So be wary of chasing big numbers of engaged followers because if you f**k it up, the jeering will be immediate & deafening.
Niche audiences can be your saviour: An old friend commented today that Obama’s victory was essentially “a majority of minorities”. I thought was extremely eloquent. Blacks, Latinos, Gay, Youth, Women – real ones not binders – all helped carry Obama over the finish line. In marketing terms all legitimate audiences but, in political terms, all audiences historically ignored and ostracized because white males were seen as the must win votes.
Lesson: Being presumptive about where your brand has opportunity is foolish. Thinking it is too expensive to chase small niche and micro-niche audiences is old-school thinking. Nurturing highly-committed niche audiences, monitoring their opinions and efficiently refining your message in real-time is entirely possible. Brands with homogenized messages are missing the point entirely.
Big Data has gone mainstream: You might be forgiven for not knowing Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight.com last week but no longer. Nate’s team is probably, as Mashable wrote, the undisputed winner of this election. His Big Data algorithms correctly predicted the results of all 50 states. A feat that studios filled with “expert analysts” at ABC, MSNBC and certainly Fox News were unable to replicate. The idea that history and weighted variables could more accurately predict outcomes on a state level was previously seen as heresy. Now I’d be surprised if Big Data modelling doesn’t become the de facto standard.
Lesson: It’s too complicated. No way you get any useful output from all that number-crunching. It’s way too expensive. These arguments still have some validity but to dismiss “Big Data” as another peripheral trend yet to crest is foolhardy. Nate Silver’s astonishing prediction has validated its potential and if there’s something we’ve all learnt about technology in recent years, when something gains mainstream acceptance prices typically drop and effectiveness improves. Expect a surge of organizations looking at the opportunity of Big Data with fresh eyes.
Lastly, a very personal observation…
Amongst the passion, Truth and Civility can evaporate quickly: You could argue that truth and civility are seldom part of the political arena but they certainly were in short supply as Election results loomed nearer. In many cases, Political debate gave way to Personal denigration – ask Donald Trump. But truth also fell victim too. Urban myths gained credibility – and velocity – via social as the more outlandish the tweet or post, the more folks seemed inclined to “share” it.
Lesson: Trolls and online anonymity aren’t going away – as this article on racist Tweets highlights – but if you create content, you have an obligation IMHO to be accurate, to fact check, to be respectful and honest with your audience. You also need to be wary of the speed with which blatant Untruths multiply – often faster and with more alacrity than the Truth. Several great articles recently have pointed out the increasing need to return some civility to the content we’re all creating. I particularly like these three posts – Mitch Joel’s very personal op-ed, the Civility Manifesto and this excellent NYT article about sarcasm and Twitter.
I can’t deny that a spectacle like the US Election is a perfect storm of big money, deeply divisive issues that evoke opinion and passion; all happening within a media environment eager to throw gasoline on the fire. Thankfully, all scenarios most brands don’t have to face.
However, for those very same reasons of budget, passion and media coverage, nascent trends have more opportunity to gain favour (or notoriety) and break through to the mainstream. And one thing we marketers can all agree on…once something goes mainstream in America, no-one’s putting that genie back in the bottle.
As a marketer, what was your experience of the US Election? Were these trends as apparent in your market or is my judgment clouded by proximity? Were there trends I missed? I’d love your thoughts.
There were lighter moments too. Who can forget these wonderful memes?